This time last year we were living in Belltown on the 4th floor of an apartment complex. Our balcony overlooked the courtyard that connected the three buildings in the complex.
At that time Luna was just about to turn 1, and she is particularly small for a Boston Terrier anyway -she was the runt of the litter. We would let her out on the balcony, but I was constantly watching to make sure she didn’t slip through the bars into oblivion 3 floors below. (Anyone who has seen Single White Female knows my fears were entirely justified!)
Anyway, one day I was sitting on the couch with Corey watching tv, not paying much attention to the fact that she was on the balcony. Suddenly I heard a big thump, and the shape that was on the balcony was no longer there.
My immediate conclusion was that she had fallen off the balcony to her poor little puppy doom. I nearly passed out and vomited simultaneously.
Well, as she is alive and well today, you can probably conclude on your own that she didn’t fall off the balcony. What happened was that she knocked over a potted plant, and that was the figure that seemed to disappear.
That would be a prime example of my mind jumping to the worst possible conclusion.
It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that I really realized that I do that constantly.
I’ve done a little cognitive behavioral therapy in my time, which can teach ways to help recognize irrational sorts of thoughts and feelings and then rationalize them. Personally I find it to be the most grueling “tool” out there, because you have to actually listen to what is going on in your body and put everything on pause to counteract what is going on. It can probably be the most helpful tool of all though.
The trouble (because there is always going to be some) for me is that I can’t seem to discern which thoughts and feelings are irrational, and which are rational.
To someone who doesn’t experience bipolar disorder, this may seem unlikely. How could someone not know which thoughts and feelings are genuine and rational?
If you think about it, our thoughts and feelings originate inside our bodies. And, as I’ve touched on a little bit before, for many of us our thoughts and feelings keep each other in check. If we have unwarranted feelings, our thoughts can call them out, and if we have unwarranted thoughts, our feelings can call them out.
The confusion begins when someone has irrational thoughts and feelings at the same time, so neither thought nor feeling can discern that things are amis. Since both are originating inside the body, how would you know what you’re experiencing is unusual in any way?
If I am manic, for example, and for some reason I feel like a werewolf (I know, I know), but then my thoughts agree with that assessment, on what basis do I begin to question it?
Likewise, it works the opposite way as well (and more often for me), if I feel crushed and rejected (even for no apparent reason) and my thoughts jump to the worst possible conclusion (that I am unloved and worthless) then what you get is a recipe for depression.
This is why it is so important to combine medication and therapy. Most people shrug off therapy, but the psychiatric medications will only help with the feelings. If we continue to think irrationally, we are much more likely to relapse into big episodes. With therapy we can work on changing our thinking to help discern reality from fiction.
Now, I don’t want anyone to interpret this as me saying depression and mania are just “in the mind” and can be cured by thinking happy thoughts. Changing the way someone thinks is really incredibly complicated, and that is just one portion of the puzzle. Has anyone ever asked you to identify how your thought process works? Could you describe it if someone did? If so, I’d be seriously impressed. Most people don’t spend a lot of time mucking about in their own craniums.
I find that sort of reflection completely infuriating, but with enough practice it does make a big difference.
Anyway, the later in the evening it gets, the more my thought process tends to deteriorate. I can move swiftly from some rational thought into jumping immediately to the worst possible conclusion in every situation.
Last night I was laying in bed and the pressures of the world were coming down on me. I grabbed them by the necktie and told them to bugger off, only to be buried by an avalanche of new anxiety and fear and despair. That’s when things became really gray and I couldn’t distinguish what thoughts were rational anymore an what weren’t. I was jumping on these thoughts like they were empty soda cans, crushing anything I could discern (or could guess) wasn’t true.
I am a terrible girlfriend. (HA!)
I will never be able to live anywhere else because I am reliant on medical services here. (Screw that.)
I am too unreliable to do anything substantial. (Well, that one might be true but I stomped on it anyway.)
At that moment it seemed ok to flail around and stomp on the various BS multiplying like a game of whack-a-mole, but it opened up a whole new can of worms.
How do I know anything I feel or think is genuine? How much of me questioning myself is actually valid? Do I run the risk of creating stagnancy around myself by not confronting any concerns I have that are genuine? Because I’m having trouble telling the difference.
It is confusing.
But at least I’m trying to fight back a little, cognitively. I was so annoyed with depression and jumping to the worst conclusion over and over again last night that all I really wanted to do was slap it in the face. Maybe even twice.
It has declared war on me?
Fine. But this brain is MY turf, and I’m not going down without a fight.
(And I’ve got a therapist on my side, so you better watch out! They know all the good sneaky tricks!)